The Supreme Court on May 30 heard the appeal of a Japanese man who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for trafficking nearly 2kg of methamphetamines via Phnom Penh International Airport.

Nonaka Shunichi, 73, was arrested at the airport in February of 2020 before receiving the lengthy prison term handed down by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

According to the case file read out at the Supreme Court hearing, on the night of February 15 that year, Shunichi carried two suitcases into the airport to bring with him on a flight to Japan.

The customs police and other authorities stationed at the airport then flagged him for a security check and found drugs weighing over 1.7kg hidden in the lining of his suitcases.

On September 15, Shunichi was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 40 million riel ($10,000) for drug trafficking. On September 28 of last year, the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision, prompting Shunichi to file a grievance to the Supreme Court.

Speaking to the Supreme Court judges through an interpreter, Shunichi said that in February, 2020, he had travelled from Japan to Cambodia to meet with other foreigners.

He said that while he was staying in Cambodia, a Thai man who was his acquaintance gave him a suitcase and asked him to bring it to the man’s relatives living in Japan. Shunichi claimed that he did not know there were any drugs inside of it.

“When the police detained me, at first I had no interpreter who could translate Japanese into Khmer. I did not know what they were saying or writing and they told me to register my thumbprint on a document, so I did. That suitcase is not mine and I would like the Supreme Court to return this case to the municipal Appeal Court for a re-trial,” he said.

Defence lawyer Chum Iek stated to the court that his client was forced to undergo police questioning without the benefit of an interpreter, saying he was totally unaware he was carrying any drugs in the suitcase that day.

“I ask the trial chamber to examine the facts and give due consideration to the request of my client,” he said.

Prosecutor Bou Bun Hang said the police search of the suitcases was done according to proper procedures and the outcome of that search was not in doubt, regardless of how the man came to be holding the drugs. According to the law, he said the defendant is guilty as charged and the lower court’s decisions were correct and therefore the verdicts should be upheld.

Presiding Judge Khim Ponn said the Supreme Court’s ruling on Shunichi’s appeal would be issued on June 6.